Monday, May 7, 2012

New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado expresses 'puzzlement and disappointment' with his friend Tom Wright's reading of Romans 9-11

When I first discovered N. T. Wright in college, I was thrilled by his papers and lectures on Jesus and Paul.  Wright has a special knack for reading Biblical texts as both a historian while simultaneously bringing out their relevance for today's church and today's world.  (I still recommend learning from Wright's reading of the New Testament: just head on over to and select the first thing that looks interesting!

It was only after reading and listening to Wright for several years did it suddenly dawn on me that, although Wright's new perspective on Paul had hugely impacted my own thinking, I actually had progressed beyond his position towards a reading now referred to as "the radical perspective on Paul."  While I continued to appreciate his erudition, I was no longer convinced by his reading of Paul, which to me was supersessionist.

It turns out that I'm not the only one confused by Wright on this point.  In Paul and Israel's Salvation: In Dialogue with Tom Wright, respected New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado writes:
I’ve re-read his essay on Romans 9–11 several times now, and my copy is heavily marked with indications of my puzzlement and disappointment at numerous points. I will simply say that I remain of the view that in Romans 9–11 Paul’s protracted and repeated concern is the fate of his people, fellow Jews, in light of his firm conviction that Jesus has been made now the one source of salvation, and the large-scale rejection of the Gospel by his people. For Paul, it seems to me, the issue boils down to this: If his ancestral people have simply gone into a ditch permanently, then “the word of God has failed” (Rom 9:6), and/or God has abandoned his people (11:1) to whom he made promises. And if God can be so defeated by Jewish unbelief in the Gospel, or can turn from his promises to Jewish ancestors, then God’s character and redemptive power are under suspicion.

I don’t see how one can read 11:25-32 as envisioning anything other than Paul’s surprising declaration that God will ultimately triumph over the present Jewish unbelief in Jesus and secure the redemption of all. Just as Paul asserts that in God’s secret plan (“mystery”) the large-scale Jewish unbelief actually is serving (in Paul’s time) to promote the “fullness” of Gentile salvation (11:25), so Paul seems to me to say that God will double back and bring also the corresponding “fullness” of Israel (11:12) into salvation. Just as all people (including Israel) have been disobedient, so God will scoop all nations (including also Israel) into eschatological salvation (11:32). And for Paul that means salvation through the Gospel of God’s Son.
 If you want to read a brilliant analytical mind at work, don't miss Hurtado's responses to his commenters.

HT: Derek Leman, who beat me to the punch in publishing a post on this very same article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm getting ready to write the third installment in my "supersessionism" series for Messiah Journal and this is certainly a timely discussion.